Cabbage thoran is my favorite Indian side dish.

Growing up in Malaysia and a lover of Indian food, I’ve lunch regularly at the Indian Malaysian restaurant. They lay a large piece of banana leaf in front of me,  scoop a large pile of white rice on it that I can never finish, and inundated by a copious amount of curry.

It is an incredible treat, but not complete without the side dish that I ordered without fail each time- Indian style cabbage called cabbage thoran. Little did I know that it is called cabbage thoran until I decided to cook it recently. 

Cabbage thoran (cabbage poriyal) is the classic Indian cabbage stir fry as a side dish. It is a famous Kerala cuisine and is also popular in Malaysia.

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What is cabbage thoran 

The classic thoran is vegetable dishes usually cooked with grated coconut originated from Kerala of India. The most common vegetables are cabbage and French beans.

It is also called cabbage poriyal in Tamil Nadu, and the Tamil recipe uses less coconut in the recipe. 

Although the authentic Indian recipes almost always include grated coconut, the Malaysian Malaysian Indian style stir fry cabbage usually excludes it but added with some carrot. Both versions are spiced with tempered mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, and chilies. The cabbage is cut or finely shredded to be cooked quickly to retain the cabbage’s sweetness. 

I cooked according to the original recipe from Kerala, and I love it. The grated coconut adds a layer of flavor, making it taste slightly different from the Malaysian version. If you want to cook the authentic Mamak (Indian Muslim) style cabbage thoran, omit the shredded coconut.

How to cook cabbage thoran (Malaysian style)

This cabbage thoran without coconut recipe is relatively easy compared to some other Indian recipes, such as biryani rice and chicken tandoori, which require many herbs and spices. The preparation of cabbage thoran is quite straightforward, with a relatively large margin of error. 

Let’s get into the details right away.

1. The cabbage

I use the round cabbage to make my cabbage thoran. The long cabbage (napa cabbage) is slightly harder and may not be as good as the round one.

  • Remove any brown and damaged outer leaves and rinse it under running water. 
  • Place the head of the cabbage on a chopping board with the side of the stem down. 
  • Cut it into half through the core, then into quarters. If the cabbage is large, cut the quarter into eight. 
  • Slice part of the stem away but retain a small portion to hold all the leaves together. If you cut off the whole stem, all the leaves will fall apart. Alternatively, you can use a mandoline to slice the cabbage thinly. You can also use the food processor with the ‘pulse’ button.
  • You can either chop, shred or grate the cabbage. Most Indian Muslim restaurants (fondly called Mamak restaurant in Malaysia) prefer to cut it into thin slices. 
shredded cabbage for cabbage thoran
Shredded cabbage

2. Tempering the spices 

Cabbage thoran is so delicious because of the tempered spices. Tempering is a traditional Southern Indian cooking method to flavor the oil over high heat with whole spices. This unique process releases the flavor of the herbs and spices into the oil.  The herbs and spices used in this recipe are mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, and dried chili. 

  • Mustard seeds and cumin seeds are the two essential items to season the cabbage. Both seeds are widely used as the base flavor of many Indian dishes. 
  • Curry leaves have an earthy and rich flavor. Its flavor is not only suitable for making curries, but for other Malaysian cuisines. An example is the butter prawns, which is a typical Malaysian Chinese recipe.
  • Dried chili is not as spicy as the Thai chili, but it releases a stronger flavor during the tempering process. Dry chili is the choice in Malaysia to stir fry cabbage. I like to cut the dried chili into small sections and remove the seeds as much as possible. I do not want it to be too spicy, and it will release the flavor more efficiently by cutting it into sections. You may substitute it with green chili.

Since tempering only worked best for whole herbs and spices, I will leave the turmeric powder, hing and salt to the later stage when adding the cabbage. 

Curry leaves
Curry leaves

Here are the steps on how to temper the spices:

  • Add some oil to a pan over medium to high heat. Coconut oil is the choice for the authentic Kerala recipe, but palm oil is popular in Malaysia. You can use any oil as long as it has a high smoking point suitable for cooking over high heat. 
  • Add the mustard seeds and saute until it starts to splutter. Then add the cumin seeds and wait until it changes colors. Be careful not to burn the cumin seeds.
  • Add the curry leaves and the dry chilies for 15 to 30 seconds to release the flavor.
Tempering the spices for cabbage thoran
Tempering the spices

3. Onion, carrots, and shredded coconut 

This recipe also includes a small amount of onion and carrot. Onion adds a slightly sweet and caramelized flavor, whereas the carrot is essentially for the color. 

  • Cut the onion or shallots into slices, or you may chop it.
  • Cut the carrot into fine julienne and set aside. 
  • Mix the onions with the tempered spices and saute for 2 to 3 minutes until it becomes translucent and soft. 

4. Turmeric powder and hing

Turmeric powder and hing (asafoetida) are the other two seasonings required besides the tempering spices. While turmeric powder is essential, hing is optional. Hing is the dried sap collected from the roots of Ferula and is usually sold as small dried granules. It has a flavor similar to leek and garlic and is commonly used in Indian cuisine. You only need a small amount as the flavor is quite strong.

Add the turmeric powder, hing, and some salt to the pan while cooking the cabbage. Cook the cabbage for about 3 minutes until it starts to turn soft but still retain some crunch. Sprinkle some water all over if it is too dry when the cabbage begins sticking to the pan’s bottom.

Hing, a traditional spice used in Indian cuisine
Hing, a traditional spice used in Indian cuisine

5. Grated coconut 

The most significant difference between the Malaysian and the Kerala version of this Indian cabbage recipe is the inclusion of grated coconut. You need to add the grated coconut when the cabbage is ready and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. 

The Malaysian Indian version does not include grated coconut, but I am eager to know the difference, and therefore I have prepared both to make a comparison. 

The taste difference is not significant, or maybe I only add a quarter cup of grated coconut to my recipe (about 350g of cabbage).  I like the addition of grated coconut with an extra layer of flavor but omit it to reminiscence Malaysia’s true Mamak taste. 

cabbage thoran
Cabbage thoran before adding the grated coconut

How to serve cabbage thoran

The cabbage thoran is a side dish. It goes well with jeera rice, rasam, dhal, or roti such as chapati or paratha. However, many Malaysians consider it one of the main vegetable dishes, served with the equal portion as the main dish, such as chicken curry.

Other related cabbage recipes

If you like this easy Indian cabbage recipe, you may also want to try the Chinese style cabbage stir-fry. The Chinese style cabbage recipe includes plenty of dried shrimps and garlic, which tastes completely different from cabbage thoran.  The cabbage roll is another classic Cantonese dish you must try. You can serve it with rice or as part of the platter of dim sum. The cabbage is stuffed with minced meat and steamed.

Yield: 4 portions

Cabbage Thoran

cabage thoran thumbnail

The cabbage thoran is usually served as a side dish. It goes well with jeera rice, rasam, dhal, or roti such as chapati or paratha. However, many Malaysians consider it one of the main vegetable dishes, served with the equal portion as the main dish, such as chicken curry.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Cut the cabbage and onion into thin slices. 
  2. Cut the carrot into fine julienne. 
  3. To temper the spices: Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and saute until it starts to splutter. Then add the cumin seeds and wait until it changes colors. Add the curry leaves and the dry chilies for 15 to 30 seconds to release the oil’s flavor.
  4. Add the onion and saute until it becomes tender. 
  5. Season with turmeric powder, hing, salt, and fry with the cabbage until soft. You can sprinkle some water if it is too dry and stick to the pan. 
  6. Fry the cabbage until it is cooked but remain crunchy. Dish out. Note: If you want to include the grated coconut, add to the pan and continue to fry for one minute before serving. 

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 148Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 618mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 3g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 11/8/2020

    6 replies to "Cabbage Thoran – How to cook (easy Indian side dish)"

    • KP Kwan

      Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

    • Lynn

      I too love cabbage thoran. I’ve never had it without coconut so I’ll be trying this one.

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Lynn,
        Sure, I hope you will like this recipe.
        KP Kwan

    • S. K. Ng

      Simple and delicious will try it out soon. Thx.

    • JETHRO PAUL RAYMER

      CAN YOU PLEASE SING ME UP FOR YOUR NEWSLETTER

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Jethro,
        I have added your email to our newsletter. Thank you for subscribing.
        KP Kwan

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